Lesson for Cal: Don't take any team lightly

Published: Saturday, Mar. 23, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 5C
Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 24, 2013 - 11:43 am

Coach Lindsay Gottlieb expects Cal's last game to help the Bears prepare for Fresno State in the NCAA Tournament opener today in Lubbock, Texas.

The Bears fell to UCLA 70-58 in the Pacific-12 Conference tournament semifinals while shooting a paltry 29.5 percent for the game and missing all 11 three-point shots in the first half.

"We talked about never being comfortable and understanding that great teams will come out and give us their best game – and we have to always be ready for that," Gottlieb said.

Fresno State coach Raegan Pebley expects Cal (28-3) to be more than ready.

"They only lost three games, and they're still averaging in the 70s in points per game," she said. "I have a hard time saying that they're not a very good shooting team or on a downhill slide with their shooting percentages. You have to look at their body of work."

The two teams, whose campuses are 185 miles apart, traveled 1,400 miles to West Texas to lead off first-round play in the NCAA Tournament.

Afterward, 10th-seeded South Florida takes on seventh-seeded Texas Tech, the host team that's appearing in its 20th NCAA tourney two decades after bringing the national title to Lubbock.

Based on a season of success, second-seeded Cal should roll over the No. 15 Bulldogs at United Spirit Arena.

But Fresno State (24-8) has plenty of postseason experience, playing in its sixth consecutive tournament.

The undersized Bulldogs are looking for their first tournament victory against a team President Barack Obama has chosen to reach its first Final Four.

"That team isn't surprised to be in the NCAA Tournament," Gottlieb said. "They're there to win a game just like we are. There is a tough and skilled quality about them."

The Bulldogs are led by junior guard Ki-Ki Moore, the Mountain West tournament MVP and conference Defensive Player of the Year. The former Sacred Heart Cathedral-San Francisco star averages 17.2 points per game.

Fresno State has two starters who are listed at 6-foot-1, but the Bulldogs rely on outside shooting and tenacious defense.

They led the Mountain West by forcing opponents to commit 20.1 turnovers per game. Fresno State also led its conference by averaging 7.4 three-pointers per game.

"They spread you out and you have to guard everyone in the perimeter," Gottlieb said.

That shouldn't bother the Bears' experienced guards Brittany Boyd, Layshia Clarendon and Eliza Pierre.

Cal, which won its first Pac-12 regular-season title (sharing it with Stanford), presents another set of challenges for Fresno State. Perhaps none is bigger than rebounding.

All-Pac-12 forward Gennifer Brandon averages 11.2 rebounds per game and Talia Caldwell gets 7.4.

"A lot of teams that are great only have one player that can rebound like that, and Cal has two," Pebley lamented.

This is the second time Cal and Fresno State have played in the first round of the tournament. Cal won 70-47 in 2009.

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